The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
Effects for Guitar - Fuzz

Published September 8th, 2008. © Chris Juergensen/ All Rights Reserved.

Categories of Effects and Placement in the Chain

Effects have always been an important aspect of the guitaristfs sound. In order to use them to their full potential, it is important to understand how they work, how the order in which they are placed in the signal chain affects tone and which ones work well with the style and genre you associate yourself with. First letfs examine the basic categories of effects and the general guidelines of what order they should be placed in the signal chain. Starting from the most important aspect of your sound, your guitar, you may want to run to an A/B box. The A/B has one input and two outputs. You can route your guitarfs signal to either output by stepping on the selector button. This allows you to select a tuner for quick access while bypassing your effects and amp. The other output will direct your signal to your effects, which eventually will head to your amp. After your A/B box, if you choose to use one, the next stop should be your Tone/Gain shaping effects. 

  • Tone/Gain Shaping Devices | This includes pre-amps, overdrives, distortions, fuzzes. These effects could be subdivided into a seperate "Gain Shaping" category although "Tone Shaping" and "Gain Shaping" devices overlap quite often. A good example of a device that overlaps would be an EQ. An EQ could be used to overdrive your amp or could be used in a more conventional manner, to EQ unwanted frequencies out or to add deficient frequencies to your tone. A wah-wah pedal is a good example of a tone shaping device as it is basically a manually adjustable active bandpass filter (adjustable with your foot).

Wah-wah first or second? - There are some gray areas here regarding order. One school of thought says that as the wah-wah is basically a tone knob (like on your guitar), it should be next in line after your guitar. Jimi Hendrix typically did this. There are some issues with certain fuzzes however. Strange howling can be caused by the mismatched impedance of the wah-wah and fuzz when the wah is placed before the fuzz (typically the 60s fuzz faces and other similar units). Therefore many guitarists place the wah-wah after gain based effects. Regardless of whether or not howling occurs, there is definitely a different tonal quality regarding the wah-wah/gain order.

EQ - EQs can also be placed in different places in the chain as well. Used to overdrive an amp, early in the chain would seem best, but used as a tool to tweak your tone, somewhere near the end, but before ambient effects such as delay would seem wiser.

Distortion, Overdrive, Fuzz | These, like the wah-wah go first or second in the chain. Some good advice would be to start here regardless of whether or not you will be adding in a wah-wah before or after the device. The relationship between your gain shaping device and your amp will make or break your sound, so first work on finding the perfect combination and settings before moving on.

  • Time/Modulation Based Devices | All these devices were originally created using a delay (whether it be tape, analog or digital), coupled with modulation. The delayed signal is combined with the original signal and the pitch of the delayed signal is modulated (or detuned if you will, usually by the means of an LFO). This creates, in relation to the amount of time delayed and/modulated, doubling, flanging and chorusing effects. The delay is relatively short, 1-30 milliseconds in these applications so the actual delay is not really heard as much as sensed. There are effects that create similar results without using typical delay and modulation in combination such as phase shifters, and Vibrato. These Time/Modulation based effects typically come after the gain/tone shaping devices. Some guitarists favor running the chorus and/or flanger to the effects loop in the amp (more on this later).
  • Pitch based devices | These effects superimpose another note (or several) on top or below your original pitch. Octaves are quite common but there are gsmarth harmonizers that can superimpose pitches related to specific keys as well. Harmonizers, Pitch Shifters and Octave Dividers are typical examples.
  • Time Based/Ambience devices | Delay and reverb. Typically these go at the end of the chain and more often than not, to the effects loop in the amp (unless you are using the reverb on the amp). 

Analog or Digital | Up to the 60s, effects, like amps were powered by tubes. So was everything for that matter, televisions and radios for example. The advent of transistors gave birth to a new era; things could be made smaller and portable. Transistors didnft need to be replaced like tubes thus any product utilizing them needed little maintenance. The problem with transistors (tubes as well for that matter) is that they are noisy, they also color tone. The fact that transistors color tone can be a good thing however, a little warmth and distortion can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered in certain situations. The last two decades have brought forth new digital effects. Digital effects unlike analog effects are clean sounding, incredibly versatile and easily programmable. If you are a session player on a gig that requires you to change sounds a lot, it can be a blessing. Unfortunately digital effects tend to lack personality and can sound cold and sterile (although this is changing every day). Many players use digital and analog technology together. Although analog effects are once again popular, it is difficult to manufacture them. The reason is simply because, the transistors that were commonly used in their original construction are not manufactured anymore in any great quantity.

True Bypass - True Bypass is a switching method where when the effect unit is bypassed, the signal goes straight from the input jack to the output jack without passing through the circuitry in the box. In effect, it is a straight wire through the box and does not degrade the signal because there is only the micro-ohm resistance of the jacks, wires and switches inline with the signal. This keeps noise and loss of signal to a minimum. True Bypass pretty much goes without saying in the manufacturing of todayfs effects but vintage analog effects were not manufactured with it and will need a mod if you want it.

Effects Loops | Many amps have effects loops built in to them. This allows you to plug certain effects directly in between the pre-amp and power amp in your amplifier. There are two different types of effect loops, Parallel and Series.

  • Series - A series effects loop sends the entire signal through the loop. When using a serial effects loop, you will generally control the mix from the effect unit itself.
  • Parallel - A parallel effects loop sends around half the wet signal through and the other half continues to the power amp unaffected. A mix dial on the amp can usually be used to control the wet/dry ratio; therefore the mix level on the effects run through the parallel loop should be set at 100%. Some effects donft work well mixed with your dry signal however, like tremolo for example. Others do, like delay. There are some amps that have both loop types on the amps allowing you to send your effects through both in various combinations.

As a general guideline, run tone/gain shaping devices such as distortion, overdrive, fuzz, wah-wah, EQ as well as certain modulating effects such as phase shifters, vibrato and tremolo in front of the amp and time based effects such as delay, reverb to the loop. Chorus and flangers are a tossup depending on the sound you are looking for. Again, vintage effects are powered with tubes or transistors, which color tone, and many guitarists prefer to run all these in front of the amp, the tube or transistor in the effect becoming part of the overall tone. These things are all a matter of taste and experimentation is the key to finding the right pattern for your sound.

Gain Shaping Devices

Gain Shaping Devices - Distortion, Overdrive, Fuzzes, Pre-Amps and Boosters are all somewhat similar devises and are often interchanged for the desired tonal results. Even before the first fuzz was created (and there are conflicting stories on who actually did do it first), guitarists had been trying to make their amps break up since amps were invented. The obvious method was to simply turn it to ten and let nature take its course. Strangely enough amplifier makers, being a bit more sensible than guitarists, made amps with enough headroom so that they wouldnft distort. After all, who would want an amp to distort? The new trend these days is low wattage amps. Rather than 50 and 100 watts, the 18 and 32 watt amps are becoming quite popular, especially for recording. The reason is simple, natural overdrive becomes a whole lot easier. A blasting amp combined with one of the clipping devices we will be discussing, can lead to pure bliss.

Before the advent of clipping devices, guitarists were known to purposely slash speakers or unplug tubes to get the desired effect. That was until around 1961. The generally believed to be true story is that in Nashville, during the 1961 Marty Robbins gDonft Worryh session, the guitar channel in the tube powered recording console began malfunctioning and distorting and the result was that everyone liked the fuzzy sound. After the recording was done Glen Snotty, the engineer, fixed the channel but duplicated the circuit and turned it into some kind of device that Nashville guitarists started using. The design eventually fell into the hands of Gibson, Maestro or their parent company Chicago Musical Instruments and became the Maestro Fuzz-Tone.

The Fuzz race was on and would eventually lead to all sorts of devices such as distortion and overdrive boxes.  Any of these devices may be used with a completely clean amp or an amp in one stage or another of being naturally overdriven. Generally speaking, the combination of the overdriven tube amp coupled with the germanium transistor equipped fuzzes lead to spectacular tonal results. Think Jimi Hendrix or early Jimmy Page. Now on to the different categories of clipping devices and the makers and models that have made history:

Fuzz | Although definitely a different sound than traditional distortion and overdrive boxes, the Fuzz box was the predecessor to both these. Some Fuzz historians claim the first fuzz box to be mass manufactured was the Maestro Fuzz-Tone first manufactured in or around 1962. British maker Sola Sound (later to become Colorsound) would soon follow with their MK I Tone Bender. Sola Sound (or Colorsound) was run by two brothers, Larry and Joe Macari who also ran a London music store called Macarifs Musical Exchange where you guessed it, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck used to hang out in the mid 60s.

The first era of fuzz pedals were equipped with either two or three germanium transistors. These pedals produced great tone, but many of these transistors turned out to be manufactured inconsistently and were not really reliable. They were also actually affected by temperature. Thatfs right, temperature can actually change the way the Germanium transistor works and ultimately change the way the effect sounds. To resolve this problem Analog Manfs Sun Face, a sort of modern day clone of the 1968 germanium Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, actually has a dial that allows you to decrease voltage during hot temperatures. What an idea!

In the 70's, most germanium transistors were replaced with silicon transistors. Silicon transistors were more compact and reliable. The silicon transistor yields much more gain and the sound is brighter in comparison. Many guitarists still prefer the warmth and raspier tone of the germanium transistors. On to some of the legendary Fuzzes before getting to some newcomers:


Arbiter Fuzz Face | This Fuzz designed and built by Londonfs Arbiter Music in the mid 60s became famous because of its most famous user: Jimi Hendrix. The Fuzz Face was an important part of his set up and you can hear it on most of his first record, gAre You Experiencedh in songs such as gFoxy Lady,h gPurple Haze,h and gThird Stone From the Sun.h David Gilmore was also a user. There were several versions manufactured over the years (first with germanium transistors and later with silicon ones) but many players seem to say that the Germanium NKT-275 Model sounds the best. They are not made any more by the original manufacturer, Dallas-Arbiter Music but there is a reissue made by Dunlop. Some musicians purchase it and do a mod to make it sound closer to the original version.


Roger Mayer Axis Fuzz | Designed and built by Guru Roger Mayer for Jimi Hendrix in 1967. This Fuzz came into play in Jimi Hendrixf gAxis: Bold as Loveh record and can be heard on several cuts including the title track. Jimi set up both his Arbiter Fuzz Face and Axis Fuzz right next to each other on many occasion. The Axis Fuzz is known for its very smooth sound which cleans up nicely. Although it can still be categorized as a Fuzz, it was manufactured a bit differently than the Fuzz Face and is somewhat different sounding. It is being manufactured again by Roger Mayer.


Maestro Fuzz-Tone - Originally built in 1962 or 1963, the Maestro Fuzz-Tone was made famous by the 1965 Rolling Stones hit gSatisfaction.h Keith Richards used it on the very distinguishable intro of the song. Unlike the other two Fuzz boxes previously described, the Fuzz-Tone was not produced in England, but in America by Maestro, a sub-division of Chicago Musical Instruments or CMI (later to become Norlin). Another sub-division of CMI was Gibson, thus the often heard name: Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone. In 2001, Gibson re-acquired the rights to the Maestro name and reissued the Maestro FZ-1A Fuzz-Tone.

Vox Tone Bender | Although likely most of these early units were made in Italy, the Tone Bender was yet another groundbreaker from a British company. Although Jimmy Page, like Hendrix, had Roger Mayer build boxes for him, he was said to have used the Tone Bender on Led Zeppelinfs first two records. The best supposed years for the Tone Bender were from 1966 to 1968. Sola Sound (or Colorsound) also made a three knob version of the Tone Bender for Vox.

New and interesting Fuzzes | The Fuzz is getting popular again after waning for a few decades. Fuzzes of interest:

Analog Man Sun Face | The problem with Germanium transistors is that they have to be tested one by one to get consistent results. That is why no company is very interested in building real fuzzes. Analog Man has taken the time to test the transistors and is now building the Sun Face which is consistent with the best of the old Arbiter Fuzz Face units. They manufacture them with NKT-275 transistors which are the same as the original ones used in the early 60s Fuzz Faces, not the cheapo ones used in the reissues. As I mentioned previously, you can order one with a dial to adjust voltage in times of extreme temperature, although some players are known to turn the dial up all the time, creating a clearer tone.   


E.W.S Fuzzy Drive | The Fuzzy Drive is the second pedal offered by E.W.S. after their modified Arion SCH-Z Chorus, which I will get to in a future article. Unlike the original vintage fuzzes, this one is not manufactured with a germanium chip and therefore, although without a doubt characteristically a fuzz, has a definitely more modern sound. One thing that undeniably sets it apart is its flexibility; you can blend overdrive and fuzz quite effectively by setting the gain and tone knobs at complimentary levels, something you canft do with most fuzzes (gain and tone back for more of a fuzzy overdrive, and up for more of a traditional fuzz type vibe). As with any good gain-shaping device, it cleans up nicely and with a little volume knob tweaking on your guitar, you can find a nice balance between clean and dirty, warm and bright. The Fuzzy Drive has a surprising amount of variation and is a quite a lot of fun to play with. It is manufactured with true bypass and as it is not manufactured with germanium transistors, it works well with both pedals in front as well as behind it. As I prefer to use it as a fuzz boost with a crunchy Marshall, I set the volume at about 2:00, gain at 2:00 and tone at about 11:00. This gives me a nice warm sound with my guitar volume back to about 6.

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